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Criticality 17: Journalism

“About the only thing that the Space Force got right…yeah, I know – I’m actually about to give your government a compliment.

I’d like this third segment to focus on something in history which really used to get on my nerves until the second amendment and the United States Constitution were each thrown out in favor of the Space Force Doctrine. The baby along with the bathwater will be my closing subject as we discuss the ambiguous right to bear arms.

As a point of disclosure, I am not a fan of guns and never will be. Call me irrational, shortsighted, or a wimp, but I’d rather collect cards, eBooks, or music. That’s just my thing, and such is life when you’re secure in your adulthood.

Anyway, with the interests of fairness out of the way, let’s delve in shall we? Put the graphic up. A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed. I notice three things right off of the bat. First, the spirit of this had to do with a government becoming tyrannical and taking away the right of the populace to be able do something about it. Second, it speaks to a right to militarily assemble in order to overthrow said government. Third, making all of this possible is the ability to wield whatever weapon would do the trick of accomplishing the regime change.

Like we normally love to do around here, let’s attack these in order. The first point is dangerously subjective. Do you ever wonder why terrorists do what they do? With such a vague precept, how can anybody fault them for accusing the government, in their opinion, of being a tyranny and taking an active role in trying to upend it? Isn’t that the spirit of this text? Words are dangerous people, and loosely worded phrases which people cling to cost lives. Who is to say that a government has become a tyranny, and what is to separate this person from an insurgent?

I know what you’re saying. I’ve labeled the Space Force as a tyranny at least once every fifteen minutes for the past fifteen seasons that my show has been on the air!

But who am I to say it? Sure, a little more research goes into my average segment than the normal, everyday person from off of the street, but I’m just some guy. Until that tipping point of tyranny is defined, every government from across the universe and across time has made it a crime to work for the purposes of its overthrow. Twenty-Three Eighty-Five comes to mind….

And this speaks to the second point. People weren’t about to assemble violently for the overthrow of their government unless the regime was weak and unwilling to put such nonsense down. I would actually like to see somebody try and go against the Space Force. Does anybody want to place bets on how quickly this person would disappear?

Yes – yes, again, I can hear the viewers talking about my track record. We can’t even get the top brass of your government to grace this show with their presence, and I’m just some loudmouth who thrives off of catching the powerful in doublespeak so that they do not seem quite as powerful. The Space Force doesn’t want this program to go on because it causes you-all to have to think for yourselves without the propaganda of their insistence and prodding. Sugarcoated topping, people. Sugarcoated topping.

Imagine if I brought a gun to the discussion. The Space Force is more than content to try and discredit me – call Chip Schilders some looney conspiracy theorist who is all about shock value and selling eBooks. I’d be lying if at least part of that wasn’t true, but they give me such an opportunity to dissect their shortcomings! And yes, I’m going to cast some stones in my glass house because this journalist doesn’t sin like them. These antics are not seen as a threat, but that changes when a weapon is entered into the equation, and you’ve never seen people disappear like when your government feels threatened.

The Space Force is not your friend, but I digress. The third point basically says that any weapon is available to me for the purposes of handling the other two points.

Let me ask everybody a question. Now you see that I’m getting into my stance – my pose for the camera where I look the entire universe in the eyes. No flinch, no stutter, just hard truth when I say, ‘If the Space Force was really after you, which handgun is capable of protection?’

The United States had bunker busters! The Space Force has spacestations which are deemed planet killers! What weapon can stop that? Maybe if I could afford a Class III Fighter, it might make things interesting for all of the ten seconds which it would take for your government to trace the transaction and send out soldiers in order to round me up.

People, people, people. The second amendment was comical. Then the gun lobby wanted to lower expectations and say that weapons were for personal protection. No matter how many times somebody took one and shot up a school, a public gathering, a child at a playground – the accepted logic was that more guns would prevent these tragedies from happening. They would never bend on high capacity magazines and laser cartridges, and I can hear them having a fit over not possessing access to the exclusive Triple Action LUNC which features one million laser pulses per laser fluid cartridge. What in the universe would a person need with that many shots?

Okay, let’s humor their position. Did that, now meet us half way? Can we put some limits on the amount of shots so that a lunatic who manages to acquire a gun legally has to stop firing and reload? No, that would infringe upon the ‘right’. It’s the old ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’ adage.

Well universe, I’m here to tell you that if there were no guns, people couldn’t kill people with guns.

For the Space Force to have come out and taken away all guns in order to re-release the weapons with DNA Recognition/Authorization, I applaud them.

For the Space Force to re-encode all guns with GPS chips and kill switch capability so that the weapons could be continuously tracked and deactivated remotely, I salute them.

Living under a government rule is a leap of faith, and one of the government’s main responsibilities is to protect its people. The Space Force’s solution wasn’t perfect – go figure, but concerning the safety of my family, these common sense solutions made a whole lot more sense than arming the entire universe and turning it into the Wild West….

Great job, Space Force. I give you an A+ on this matter. But your government receives an F- on forthrightness. What do we really know about them? Sometimes, it’s not about what they say or do but what is not said and things that aren’t seen being done.

Cryptic – yeah, I know. Let me not fall into the same vein as the Space Force, but we do still have ratings to make. Tomorrow, the universe is going to be shocked by the findings of some top secret government cables which were unearthed recently.

This is bigger than public policy because it concerns private shadow dealings. And Space Force, if anything happens to me, the unfiltered documents will be broadcast to the entire universe – friends and foes alike. No, I don’t need a gun to bring down a tyrannical government. It merely requires the truth. You don’t want to miss this, people – coming next time on a dedicated three-part Chip Schilders Special Report.”

Solstice Satellite

General Horace Pile was not amused, but on the inside, he was smiling. The actual leak within the Space Force concerned him about as much as the possible dissemination of the leaked information which was not too terribly troubling to him at all. Contingencies existed for such things, and in his mind, issues were nothing more than opportunities to succeed.

“Touché, Stalkord,” the General said to himself before reaching across his desk to grab the gaudy, transparent libation container with its spiky accents (for better grip) in order to pour a drink and propose a belated toast to a shrewd business partner. He was not a fan of alcohol, so iced tea would more than suffice for this humbling moment of cajoled deference.

To the air went General Pile’s glass as its ice cubes clinked along the upward journey before he brought the drink back down to his lips in a sweeping motion which allowed him to down the entire serving in one sitting. This was all a part of a game that they played – a game with rules which the Space Force ultimately set and Stalkord knew how to expertly work within.

Everything ran on Ennead Tech Corp’s Minimalist Operating System. The General could imagine that Stalkord might have hacked the Space Force personally for the purposes of making sure that the deed was done properly. Oh yes, the software was secure, but that was only because his engineers had no idea what questions to ask in order to find out where it might not be secure. There was no question of why this was done.

The only question was of why it took so long for Stalkord to respond back. Ironically, the General knew that this would not put any stress on the Space Force and Ennead Tech Corp relationship because of the nature of the corporate beast. After all, he had taken the first shot because of certain business decisions which did not sit too well with him. This ensuing fallout was merely the nature of the game and its residual effects on a blistering scale. It was almost assured that Chip Schilders – the stupid reporter from WZZZ had information on the Enforcers.

Backing up a little bit, General Pile remembered being absolutely livid at Stalkord’s reluctance to re-sign the exclusivity agreements between the Space Force and Ennead Tech Corp. Once the arrangement lapsed, he had been professional about the slap in the face initially by letting matters be what they were – a disappointing turn of events but completely legal. When his former, exclusive business partner started hopping into bed with enemy factions like the New Alliance, things had gone entirely too far. Who was next, the Pillorian Regime?

The one thing which the General had most feared was beginning to ring true, and it took his most trusted business partner to demonstrate this fact. The Space Force was becoming weak, and a faction that was not feared happened to be merely biding its time until securing a reserved space in oblivion. One of the main reasons for sanctioning the Enforcers was to prevent the power structure from faltering, so how ironic was it that Stalkord chose this piece of information to leak in order to try and most damage him?

‘Try’ being the operative word there because it would do nothing to General Pile, and Stalkord’s effort was halfhearted at best. Certain elements within the Space Force did not know about his little Enforcers project and would not be pleased when the word was to get out tomorrow. Even if the reporter was successfully muzzled, the other two generals and even Leader One: Jerry Stuyvescent were sharp. They would know and could take the incident as an understanding that some extracurricular shenanigans were being plotted earnestly albeit treasonably.

The Enforcers existed for the protection of the Space Force – at least that is what the General would admit to, but the fact of the matter was that they were sanctioned to weed out higher-ups within his faction who were compromised and working to undermine the spirit of their main purpose. Those very same people could possibly be one or any of his peers, subordinate officers, and even everybody’s superior officer – Leader One.

Yes, the Space Force had become weak – weak enough for the tight knit hierarchy to become undone, weak enough for General Pile to engage in a petty squabble with a well-meaning business partner by using some perceived muscle to prove a pointless point, and weak enough that he now realized it or could admit it to himself. He allowed additional pressures to be put on commerce which affected Ennead Tech Corp’s bottom line directly, watched as his faction became desperate in puffing out its chest by entering into some bad strategic partnerships that were meant to affirm its worth, and wondered if Stalkord had yet figured out the tricky part which had been played in the office manager incident.

No, Stalkord had done the General a favor by displaying his vulnerability for the entire universe to see. The first step was always admission. An apology of the formal and in person variety was in order, but he needed to move quickly and counter the ambitions of a reporter who was not afraid to die for a scoop.

While swirling the ice around the glass which was in his left hand, General Pile fingered his Ear-To-Mouth Com with his right hand and contacted his personal guard, “Dash, Lug Nut – ready a shuttle for my departure. We need to head down to Second Earth.”

At this hour, the General absolutely hated to have to leave his cabin. Plush brown leather, thick mahogany furniture, and heavy glass highlights were the theme throughout the office. The dim lighting created a tinge of dark warmth against the reflection of the rustic-colored mixture, and he had been suffering from the stress of work-related headaches as of late. These were frontal lobe headaches which had nothing to do with sinuses but everything to do with fatigue, intense and incessant concentration, and not quite having a handle on his work situation. For him, it was now becoming all about prioritizing the plan and following through with the objectives. Part of this implied that certain items necessitated a tender and humbled hands-on approach. Other details were not worth his time.

“For the top of this show, I’ve got to bring our thought processes back to a question which I posed at the conclusion of the last show. What do we really know about the Space Force? Put up the checklist graphic.

Number one: Corporation equals government. Yep. We finally rid the government of organized religion’s overt influence, and now there’s this. On one hand, the group has no tangible idea of what they are doing, and it showed because the only Ethereal who reigned supreme during their many failed administrations was Lord Gridlock. On the other hand, the group knows exactly what they are doing and openly exploits their rule to those ends. I didn’t think that this was an either-or proposition. Oh how we’re going to long for an agnostic rule which does not play favorites for Ethereals or businesses. The fallacy of the matter as you’ll have them tell it is that the term ‘special interests’ did not include us or ours.

Number two: Voting. I used to always say that if you didn’t utilize your right to vote then you couldn’t exercise your right to complain. With the Space Force, we do not have the right to vote or complain. This is not a democracy. This is not a republic. This is not even a debate or a discussion. And they expect everybody to accept the fact that there is no recourse! Not that voting ever worked in the past – people stood up, fought, died, and killed for the sacred duty only to see successive generations make a mockery out of it. The Winds of Change which continuously blow on the Pendulum of Throw the Bums Out-ism are to blame here, and the voting public was full of hot air. My analogy is significant because of the constant back and forth which comes from fixing the starting point, stopping, and thinking that changing direction will actually net progress when in actuality you’re just running in place. There can never be progress with that manner of thinking because there is no moving forward. I’ll also say this, everybody knew that there was trouble when the only votes that held any sort of validity were the three which could be submitted per day for the all-star games. People – come on!

I’m getting back into my stance – my patented pose for the camera where I look the entire universe in the eyes again. No flinch, no stutter, just hard truth when it needs to be said that, ‘Society must accept a major portion – at least two-thirds of the blame for the Space Force coming to power.’ The public acted like spoiled children who were more concerned with self, much less concerned about another, and not concerned at all about the solidarity of true governance. That was until an entity swooped in like parents and sent us collectively to our room.

Progress is more than millions standing out in the street protesting. Progress is more than band-aiding a dire hole in the outer hull with thin blame of the past or passed responsibility. Progress is more than one fool having made it when the rest are starving all the while believing that throwing money at the situation will have little more impact than a tax write-off at the end of the year or a moral feel-good moment from a convenient obligation – give a fish, teach to fish…. Progress is not a party or a movement. Progress is not a person or a savior. Survival of the fittest? Progress is better than this. From each according to one’s ability, to each according to one’s need? Progress can be more than this. Progress….

But legislators, executors, and judiciaries also share a third of the blame. A bill should have never been more than one page long, and the legislatures should have seen that moving one step forward with shady compromise only to move two steps backward with hundreds of pages worth of unread, uninterpretable, and unneeded garbage was a recipe for failure. If the legislature was incapable of seeing this, then the executives should have been smart enough to point it out because Grandma should have been able to recite and comprehend exactly what was in those bills, and if she couldn’t, why was the legislation being made so needlessly complicated again? Dubious pretenses is the answer which would have fallen under the judicial branch to rectify except that its rotten apples never did fall far from the biased, partisan tree called ‘conflict of interest’. Progress is….

We’ll be back after the break.”

Enforcer I

“The entire ship is watching this idiot,” Chipshot said as he entered one of the many console decks. These force-shielded off areas mostly contained servers, but the lulling hum of the computing equipment also served up a secondary purpose when coupled with the ambiance at such a high altitude which Enforcer I flew. It was peaceful.

“The reporter means well,” Acro greeted from his chair which had him propped of perfectly for some pseudo meditative stargazing, “but he is going about this all wrong and will suffer because of it.”

Chipshot stood beside Acro and decided not to pull up a chair. The view was inviting, but he did not want to disturb his friend and would not be staying for long. “You can say that again. I’m ashamed that he shares one half of my codename as his real name. Anyway, I wanted to make you aware of this.”

Without looking away from the scenery, Acro held up his left hand to receive a slate computer from Chipshot. He simply maneuvered its screen in front of his face and read.

“This one is your call, Acro,” Chipshot decided. Rank-wise, it was technically not, but missions against personal acquaintances were a big deal which warranted a more delicate tact.

“She’s my clan sister,” Acro stated, “and we do not always agree on our ideology, but I do not wish her any harm.”

After accepting the slate computer back, Chipshot figured that the conversation could probably continue without the need for any notes which suited him just fine because he would rather not have to sift through the reading of a rather sizable file for its most relevant parts. “Is she a Crimson Red Belt?”

Acro’s head had not moved from its original position but his gaze returned to the sky as he admitted that, “She was the first Crimson Red Belt. Despite our orders, it would not be a very good idea for the Enforcers to take this mission. The outcome would almost assuredly force the final third of the Djibouti Clan hierarchy to have to intervene in an attempt for unification of the resultant, unevenly divided power structure to occur. But most importantly to me, I do still love her like a sister.”

“I’ll alert G-Pile that we’re going to scrap this mission,” Chipshot agreed while turning to exit the console deck.

“I’ll tell G-Pile personally when he arrives at Enforcer I,” Acro insisted.

Stopped in his tracks from leaving, Chipshot felt the need to preface a subtle comfort level which he found in Acro’s leadership, “Please know that I wouldn’t mind deferring to you on a more regular basis. There’s no reason why Briar One, myself, or MC should not at least be equal in standing let alone higher in rank.”

Acro sighed, “You’re doing a fine job, Chipshot. Your lead will never be in question from this perspective, so why do you continually allow it to be held in question from your own perspective?”

“You’re a legend,” Chipshot pleaded, “and the Enforcers’ founder. Who better to lead the team than you?”

“Who worse,” Acro corrected, “to lead the team than me? I told you that there’s an ongoing ideological disagreement between myself and my clan sister, and this is at the root of it. We have not spoken in quite some time although that is mostly because of the direction of our travels and not any sort of animosity because there isn’t any.

I just know what my clan sister hasn’t done and what she wouldn’t do when originally confronted by Master Dyoogie. Power like ours must be placed under checks and balances because the freedom to wield will is not something to be taken lightly. The responsibility is enormous, but the capability is even larger.

No one person should be able to hold as much power as we do, and yes, I don’t have to follow a single order that MC, you, Briar One, or even G-Pile passes down, but my honor is greater than my skill, and I said that I would, so I will. This is not running from responsibility; this is taking responsibility.

We Enforcers believe that the Space Force is the answer and are willing to work through the established government in order to see to society’s furtherance despite the fallibility of our employer. Anarchy is never the answer when order can give us the chance to work through those faults and become the pride of our aspirations.

I knew a woman who was very similar to my clan sister. This person had no checks and balances thrust upon her either, so when she was tested and faltered, an entire universe suffered because of it. You often speak of this legendary status of mine – well, that was achieved by trying to fight back against a force which saw no power as being greater than itself. The effects of such a force are horrifying.

As of today, I’ve been given no indication that my clan sister is susceptible to falling into this same pattern. We have no immediate reason to engage in confrontation with her, and she might one day become a necessary ally.

Let’s just hope that the other day never comes when my clan sister sees the Space Force as a part of the problem and her own vision as the underlying solution. Because then, we surely would have to face off against the drudge of some extremely tenuous circumstances which could doom the Dyoogie Discipline by the consolidation of its knowledge.

Master Dyoogie had wanted redundancy for the purposes of passing down the pernicious arts of his life’s work to future generations. And his chosen three will have squabbled the prize and squandered the inheritance when we should have nurtured and cultivated it.”

Never before had Acro been this open about this much of his past to Chipshot. The passion of the speech was almost drowned out by the sorrow which happened to also be expressed in the moment. He loved his clan sister and from the sounds of it, the third Crimson Red Belt as well – whoever that was. But pain was eminent. Pain was clearly resonant. The processing of which seemed to be ongoing as this was interesting that not even Acra Lin was present for what must have been a much needed release.

It was obvious to Chipshot that Acro was expressing a little bit of self-doubt of his own, and this was clearly surprising. Could that amazing man have been Human after all? And what did this say of the faith which was being instilled in the leadership of the Enforcers that its founder found himself to be unworthy of wielding the reigns effectively? Had not this uncertainty always been the other way around? How could he be so sure of everybody and everything else but unsure of himself?

In retrospect, Chipshot probably should not have said this, “Are you foreshadowing or repenting?”

A meeting of silence was perhaps the coldest response of all by Acro because Chipshot could not tell which one of those present choices that he asked about were the answer, and he also could not tell if a line had been crossed. Any additional words on his part might complicate the situation more than it seemingly already was, and honestly, no disrespect was meant by him.

Again, Chipshot turned to exit the console deck – almost more somber and confused about his status as Acro’s superior officer than when he had entered for what was supposed to be a quick update.

There were no hard feelings as Acro again replied in a manner which stopped Chipshot in his departing tracks, “Thanks for letting me know about my clan sister.”

Without turning around, Chipshot nodded and finally left. Maybe they would speak further on the matter in the future. Acro just did not have the answer to his question right now.

“Welcome back. Now, let’s make this clear. I don’t claim to have all of the answers. That’s not my job. I’m just here to make sure that all of the right questions are being asked. The opinions which are expressed on this show are mine alone, and WZZZ can’t seem to distance itself away from me fast enough sometimes. Makes you kinda feel like an edgy talk show host. Let’s jump right back in.

Number three: Lack of opposition. Where is the descent? Do you mean to tell me that the Space Force has done such a good job over these past decades that nobody is upset with anything that they do or have done? Everything has been perfect – flawless? I’m not going to get into my pose because we need to move the show along, so we’re simply going to concede here that this just sounds shady.

Remember point number one. The nature of a corporation is to compete and outdo its competition. If that was the case in the first place, then after the Space Force came to power, this mantra shifts to the need to suppress any future competition. Now – suddenly, things like the technology takeover make sense. The socialization and retooling of various different industries as ‘punishment’ has taken the place of market factor stabilization. How convenient. Your government will tell it like collusion was running too rampant and that something drastic needed to be done. Fine, we’ll humor this point as well.

I’m back on point number two again now. I’d gone in depth on this one during the last segment, but we’d need to derive some additional context from my previous rant. Okay, the corporations are out of the equation, and our voice, for as remedially soft-spoken as it was, has been muzzled because we preoccupied ourselves with fighting so hard and manipulating the system for petty selfishness and self-aggrandizement that our fundamental right to vote was taken away. You might as well add the right to free speech to the list. It’s kinda funny, if it weren’t so pathetic, but a society which bases its rights in law rather than the practice of progress shouldn’t really be surprised when those laws happen to get repealed. Rights were taken for granted and our parent, the Space Force, took them away. You’ll get no argument out of me on that because my argument happens to be on another point elsewhere.

Some of my viewers may be too young to recall a time of heated rhetoric and visceral rebuke when it came to politics. The political theater was a tragedy in the making because the words never netted anything other than inaction. Do you ever notice how the Space Force doesn’t talk? They never talk. When was the last State of the Tyranny address? We never hear any bickering, back and forth, or pandering. Your government simply acts.

Indelibly, the Space Force has been benevolent but to what ends? More appropriately, what means have they used outside of neutering the corporations and ripping out our tongues? Am I the only one who is out there pleading his case against this madness?

Universe – people, I fear for what is about to come. Things which are too good to be true normally are, but there is nothing good about what the Space Force is setting us all up for. What exactly that is, I’m unsure of. We’re already subjugated, so it almost seems like there would be nothing else for your government to gain.

I couldn’t put my finger on it. I couldn’t figure this last piece out. I couldn’t sleep on it because this plagues my every waking moment. Money be da-ned, I care about the progress of society!

I don’t even know why.

It feels like I’m constantly fighting this uphill battle against the Space Force, and yet they present this appearance of purity – having done nothing of merit to warrant such scrutiny from me. Here I am looking like the bad person, when it is them! This…government of yours who would have us to believe that your individual interests are unimportant so long as progress continues to be made, the tyranny has everybody hypnotized by its many wonderful deeds.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m just upset because they took this ‘progress’ concept that I have been harping on for decades and put it continually into practice – beating me to the punch before I learned the government savvy to enact it on my own and reap the rewards of my incredible foresight. Maybe that’s it. Maybe I’m just paranoid. This is starting to sound like an old rock song.

Or maybe, I was right all along. And nobody, if very few, believed me. Maybe this is the biggest ‘I toldja so’ in the history of ‘I toldja so’s’. Maybe we should take a look at the contents of this slate computer and finally understand as a society that the Space Force cannot be as perfect as they appear or present themselves to be.

A bet that I’m about to win, I bet that you didn’t know that the Space Force doesn’t just monitor us – privacy can also be added to the list. Your government walks among us in covert and could be anywhere or anyone among us but only to further beat us down into submission. People really despise me because there’s rarely any evidence to support the reason of why as is often espoused by my wild and sometimes farfetched accusations.

But I’m here to tell you that the why no longer matters because I have in my hands the how. We’ll be back in a moment.”

Food which Chip should not have been sampling was abundant within the greenroom. Soft chocolate chip cookies brought a smile to his face because of the play off of his name. They were calling to him because they were actually named after him. He happened to be an unassuming type and not necessarily out of shape, however there was always the option to do better. One and a half miles per day of running in place was his penance. As long as a sweat was worked up, his heart was pumping, and there was the ability to get into it as seen by the workout frequently turning into a private dance routine – it was all legal.

Chip had earned this after a job nearly completed. It was the show where he was laying everything on the line regarding the Space Force, and that would prove to be difficult to top. Professionally, he must outdo himself at a later point because this scoop was furthering his name off of the freebie from an unnamed – rather unnameable source. The name of the source was information which simply did not exist.

In terms of making a name for himself, this type of activity would do the opposite whereby Chip’s name would be tarnished and his skills as a journalist might ultimately be called into question. Where was the investigation in that? Some random person basically gave him stolen classified information. The only reason of why this had not escalated so far out of control was because he was not respected in the same journalistic vein as WZZZ’s news anchor, Sem Slacy. People even seemed to put more faith in the Space Force’s lapdog – he meant analyst, Elam Aldebron. Depressingly, even the famed sports announcer, Ecleesy Conus, was held in higher regard than the man who had just cracked the biggest story ever against the so-called government.

And what of the Space Force? Sure, Chip’s not so hollow threat from the last show was a great buffer of insulation against his life being taken, but they were clearly hedging their bets against his second-rate status. The play for them was not to play into martyring him and proving all of those da-ning points by the default of a deadly gambit. He was conceivably a highly protected individual because the government did not want to see any sort of random accidents happen whether they had anything to do with it or not.

The Space Force’s only recourse was to discredit Chip, but why would they waste their time and give credibility to his wild accusations? Or, they could allow him to continue to discredit himself, and he despised them for it. The government had chosen to wait him out, and they were more than patient enough to be able to do it with the allocatable resources to ensure that his life managed to be long and uneventful.

Even Ana Serveno and Hugo Beddoe held more reliability in the eyes of the laughably discerning public with mindless gossip shows about who was sleeping with whom, an incessant display of the latest fashions that their shallow obsessions were parading around in, the newest headcase from their assortment of rich and powerful but otherwise crowned as being important people to land inside of a rehab facility, and the ratings grab of the latest exploitable tragedy. And Chip was considered the class clown by fellow journalists and incendiary by detractors alike. He was almost guilty of caring too much! Ironically, this was also created because of a default since nobody else cared – at least about what should have been important.

Everybody’s beloved Space Force had created a team – its own private use splinter group called the Enforcers whose sole purpose was to keep it in power. These were the people who were rarely seen unless it was time for somebody to die. These were the people who handled the regime changes of other factions across the universe. These were the people who did not even exist. These were the people who were sanctioned by the government to do whatever they were told and carry out its ruthless will so that it was never implicated and always remained perceptively benevolent in its rule.

Although Chip did not uncover the initial story, he did manage to connect the dots of the body count which was significant – he would have to add. The Enforcers could be said to have been deftly efficient in their controlled malice. Precision kills earned them the title of executioner as far as breaches of the Space Force Doctrine were concerned. That was legal, but it was also an ugly interpretation because a ‘breach’ knew no bounds and could mean anything that the higher-ups within the government so deemed the dangerously loose definition to be.

This was the biggest story ever, and Chip had released it under anger. He had no other choice. Nobody was listening. Stopping a moment to catch himself from crying in milk which was not even spilled yet, it was decided that the cookie would be a better complement than his ‘woe was him’ tale of self-pity. There was no turning back now, and a bout of self-doubt was seemingly going around these days. One more segment was all that was needed at this point in order to finally expose the Space Force.

“We checked our sources,” a voice came from Chip’s left side as he faced the catering cart, “and you seem to be experiencing a ratings boon tonight because of your story.”

“You set it up pretty nicely,” a voice now came from Chip’s right side as well. “I especially liked your impassioned part about progress – very well written.”

Actually, the part about nobody listening was partially incorrect. People were listening literally – just not figuratively. Proof of that audience hinging on Chip’s every word was demonstrated by these two Space Force operatives who were now hovering over him.

“What, so the Space Force is just going to muscle in on me now?” Chip turned around, metaphorically stood up, stood his ground, and asked.

One of the Space Force operatives – the one on Chip’s left was named Dat Rotca who General Pile had referred to as Dash earlier. He answered the charges, “Quite the contrary, Mister Schilders. You’ve had a wonderful setup to your show and a gripping segment in the center to move tonight’s episode along. We’re hoping that you have a bang-up piece to contribute for its finale.”

Shrugging off the sentiment, Chip shook his head in disgust of the Space Force operatives’ presence and attempted to disregard this petty attempt at intimidation by blowing them off and walking back to the set. A firm and borderline forceful hand from the person who had been on the right of him (before he turned around) begged to differ.

This Space Force operative’s name was Cas Trinity who the General had referred to earlier as Lug Nut. He shoved Chip backward and nearly on top of the catering cart. “We’ve reached an impasse here. You’re willing to die for your cause, but we need to shut you up.”

“It’s ironic when the only people who believe my story are those who I’m trying to take down,” Chip smiled.

“Shut,” Dash was out of patience but lowered his voice on the second half of that heated utterance for added emphasis, “up.”

“You’ve made this so that we can never touch you,” Lug Nut explained, “but when Grandma was mentioned in your potentially award-winning report, the Enforcers got to thinking of a way to finally shut you up.”

Dash and Lug Nut were General Pile’s personal guard. Again, he was not going to waste his time on dealing with Chip when his Space Force operatives were more than capable of informing the reporter about the consequences of these continued actions.

And even though Dash and Lug Nut backed away from the man who would have had the Space Force spooked, the leverage was applied more tightly than Chip could have ever imagined. He went from loudmouth, to potential martyr, to hostage in the span of less than an hour.

The Space Force did not make threats either. They merely made observations after the deed was done, and Chip could infer whatever he wanted from it.

“Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Did you see that dunk? Come on now! A point guard isn’t even supposed to be doing stuff like that. If he doesn’t get the MVP, then something is wrong with the league. This team isn’t even at one hundred percent – hasn’t been with two major pieces being out for half of the season, and they are contenders! I am proud of every single person on that squad – even the announcers. They’re the best. Hey, can you hold on a real quick second?” Recoil paused his smartphone conversation in order to open the door for an older woman who was lugging two armfuls worth of groceries up the stairs of her apartment complex. She was not incapable or unable and in pretty decent health, but he wanted to be chivalrous in this moment. “Let me get that door for you.”

Because the next moment had left Chip looking dejected and detached from himself in front of the camera. The universe saw a version of the reporter who had been sapped of his resolve – ultimately having gone up against the Space Force and lost badly. But they would never know. Nobody could ever know because he had a family member who might be affected for every wrong word.

The only out seemed to be to just fight through this and release the Enforcers cables – maybe even link in the part about his murdered grandma at their hands. But then the Space Force would finally have the discredit which they sought. There was no way that this connection could be proven by the time that the last segment needed to air, and the spin placed on the story by WZZZ to hush it up was going to have him headed for a straightjacket in deliriously and maniacally blaming a family tragedy on the government. They had won.

But Chip felt that it was merely one round – one devastating round. The Space Force now controlled his message, bringing his journalistic integrity down a couple of notches to normality where only the flames of the approved news cycle were stoked. There was no secret why every news station had all of the same stories at all of the same intervals of time and with nearly the same slots for commercial breaks. There was more going on than simply putting sports and weather at the end of the broadcast to force people to have to sit through its entirety. There was one way out of this.

“And we’re back in five,” the program director called out before proceeding with the remainder as a silent count which was accompanied by the applicable hand gestures.

Chip would need to become a journalist in order to beat this. No more of this exclusive scoop, freebie stuff. No more of this inflammatory, shock persona. No more of this seeking out the lead story of the day in favor of adding to the Space Force’s programming of the viewers’ minds as to what was deemed to have been pertinent at the time. No more of this overshadowing of his own points with leading arguments to support ‘his’ positions.

The job of a true journalist was not to have opinions (on the air) but to present both sides of a position as forcefully as a litigant who might be tasked with having to work both sides of a court case. The audience could then make up their mind. Sometimes, they might get it right – other times not. But it was not Chip’s responsibility to force the horses to drink. Responsibility was a funny thing too. In trying to save the universe, he had neglected his own – his own family. They suffered because of this, and no, the cost did not balance out the worth.

How rare was that though? How many times had a person been able to tell how a so-called journalist felt on an issue? How many times had a person been confused about how the so-called journalist approached the issue? How many times had these so-called journalists pressured a guest or pitted a guest who could double for a lit match up against a guest who looked surprisingly like a stick of dynamite? Yes, the program director’s count had slowed considerably in this moment of contemplation, but Chip was even considering the possibility of providing the questions to his guests beforehand for the purposes of creating substantive discussions. The entire format could be changed, and it would need to be. He had done enough talking, and it was time for him to start doing his job.

If by this neutrality-based presentation the Space Force happened to be brought down, then the universe would know how good of a journalist that Chip really was to have not forced the government’s hand in doing so, not brought personal bias into the equation in having done so, and not needed to lift a finger of active participation in the accomplishment of his ultimate will being carried out. He fought back tears as well as the quivering left side of his lips, and began the next segment….


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